THIS is not going to be an article about gammon, but on the causes of gammon, and some rules on how to avoid it. I don’t think I’m alone in being concerned that the debate we are having, in Scotland, the UK, the EU and indeed further afield, is getting shriller and nastier. I’ve written about this in this column and elsewhere. It’s really important to realise that this is a tactic being used against democracy and to avoid the temptation to join the fun.

I did a TV debate a couple of weeks ago with, amongst others, David Coburn, the Ukip MEP. It was excruciating. Where there was actually a chance to have a rational discussion about what is going on and maybe find some solutions or at least hold those accountable to account, Coburn spent the entire time interrupting burbling nonsense, most of it wrong, almost all of it assertion, some of it contradictory, and it drowned out the sense. Literally shouting people down.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m game for a rammy, but a few years ago I realised that while rammies might for some make great telly, they only appeal to the already partisan. Neutral people watching to try to gain some information, or context, or actual facts are turned off and just walk away. So I had my usual dilemma when faced with it, do I engage and have a row, or sit and wait to get a word in then seethe with frustration afterwards?

So I sat the rammy out, yet looking at the reaction to the programme as it was broadcast, on Twitter because I was in Brussels, it was telling. Some kind words for me (and thanks for that!) but the vast majority of the comment was about Coburn. By and large calling him for all sorts, none I saw approving, but nonetheless about him.

Not about any of the points made (not even his, such as they were), or the wider debate, but just about what a numpty some people think he is.

So, and here’s the secret, from his perspective, that’s a job well done. He’s there to crowd out rational argument, and, by and large, he succeeded.

On Brexit, that is precisely what is happening. The more outrageous and silly they are, the more people will use their precious time to obsess about their latest outrageous sillyness. The more obnoxious they are, the greater the temptation is to respond in kind, I know the temptation all too well myself.

But the danger here is this: if we all get down and dirty to argue with those we might regard as pigs, pretty soon, to the casual observer, we’ll all look like pigs. Most people are not active in politics nor political debate and are not partisan one way or the other. I think many folk outside the bubble think politics looks pretty unedifying just now.

I’m not suggesting we shy away from debate, criticism – calling out people when we think they’re wrong or misguided – or even ridicule. But let’s be careful about how we do that and think of how those we need to persuade would look at the discussion. The day I had eight points of order raised against me when I called, in Parliament, various MEPs “shysters, charlatans and useful idiots” remains a good day at the office. But I was clearly not calling the voters who believed them this, but the shysters, charlatans and useful idiots themselves, to get the point across to the voters that they have been comprehensively misled.

It is telling that the Brexiters were so quick out the blocks with “Remoaners” as a way of dismissing those of who asked them questions they couldn’t answer. “Snowflake” and various others have followed, to be answered this week with “gammon”.

It might be entertaining pub banter but to class an entire group of people as one block it isn’t an argument, its an admission of failure. How on Earth is anyone going to be persuaded when they feel insulted? The merry go round just continues round and round and we lose.

They’re doing it to us on Brexit in the hope that they’ll run down the clock and the implications of their lies will only sink in too late. I’m working hard to get the facts across to people to inform the debate and hold them to account.

But think of all that from an independence campaign perspective. It all applies. If the plan is to turn Brexit into an ugly stramash that people wearily acquiesce to, what if the plan is to do the same to the independence movement so that folk run a mile?

What we say matters, as does how we say it. We’re all of us ambassadors for the cause of independence in every conversation, post and tweet. Being boorish, falling out amongst ourselves over perceived ideological purity or the narcissism of small differences won’t help in the short term, or the long. It’s our well they want to poison, let’s not help them.